The Irishman started the season hot at Tour Down Under, powering to victory in his very first race with Deceuninck-Quick-Step, his new team. From there, the season went on a simmer, with that sprint success in Australia remaining his one win for the year. The 29-year-old was confronted with a super-charged sprint field at the UAE Tour that denied him the top step of the podium, and then abandoned mid-way through Paris-Nice.
“The start of the season didn’t go the way I wanted,” Bennett told PA News Agency earlier this week. “I wasn’t in the form I hoped for, I didn’t perform the way I wanted to.”
“I know this [coronavirus crisis] is a terrible thing to happen and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it gives me a chance to start my season fresh.”
After starting the year in such style with the win at Tanunda, Bennett’s racing year ended under a cloud in stage 3 of Paris-Nice, getting caught on camera repeatedly barging Nairo Quintana in the closing kilometers of the stage and then crashing in the final build to the bunch kick. His injuries from the crash forced him to abandon the race the next day.
The news Wednesday of a confirmed August 29 start date for the Tour de France was music to Bennett’s ears. After being denied his opportunity to start last year’s Tour with Bora-Hansgrohe, Bennett’s move to Deceuninck-Quick-Step opens up his first run at the Tour since 2016, and forms a key target for his year.
“Finally, today we woke up to some nice news,” Bennett said in a team press release, Wednesday. “It’s really exciting to have something to target, this is very good for our sport, for the sponsors, for the riders and fans!”
Despite injuries and illness robbing Bennett of the opportunity to compete in his two Tour appearances to date, the Irishman has now hit his grand tour stride, netting two wins at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, and three at the 2018 Giro d’Italia. A Tour de France victory would complete the set, and Bennett is confident that Quick-Step is the place to do it. The ‘wolfpack’ has proven a successful hunting ground for sprinters through the years, with the likes of Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Elia Viviani flourishing at the Belgian team.
“How many sprinters go to Deceuninck-Quick-Step and go backward?” Bennett said this week. “They all go there and progress. When you see that blue moving through the peloton, it’s intimidating for a lot of teams.”
With the Tour now confirmed for late August, Bennett can re-tune his focus for late-summer and hope to have shaken out the cobwebs that hindered him through February and March.
“I’m not saying I’m the fastest but I know I can compete and there’s definitely a win there for me,” he said. “I’m 29 and I feel my whole career has been building to this. Now I want to go to the Tour and get those wins.”